Good morning! Apologies for the poor timing and intermittent posting from me in a very important time frame. I’ve been traipsing through areas that give zero fucks about my football love, so it’s been hard to catch the games let alone write them up. Some great reads from Alex and James, yesterday’s match report certainly had more balance and insight than I’d have been able to give.
The Spurs game was a good result given the context of the day, but factored in with the context of the season? No way. It wasn’t good enough. I found it pretty embarrassing revelling in a draw with Spurs. Aren’t we the fans that used to rip Spurs fans for doing that? We’re taking joy in stifling Spurs rather than engaging in sadness that by doing so, we stuttered again in our now derailed romp to glory…
Arsenal needed 5 points from our last three games. We’ve taken one. We should have gone to United and pinned that midfield with Elneny and Coquelin and hit them on the break. Instead, we open it up with Flamini who was playing like a fearful sweeper and Ramsey who wanted to play in advance of Ozil, like a total fool. Then we go to Swansea, we totally batter them but again, we let them in because our midfield aren’t in position to deal with a bad goal kick. If we’d taken the needed points in those two games, we’d be in good shape there. Go back before then where we shouldn’t have conceded 3 against Liverpool, we should be beating Stoke and we certainly shouldn’t have crashed against the worst Chelsea for years.
These micro fuck ups have all added up in a season where we should have bossed the league.
Anyway, here is my take on our issues…
The Axis of Malaise
Wenger has really f*cked up this season. He’s made improvements, for sure, but at a very base level, he’s a failing manager and we all know it. Worse thing is that he clearly knows that these days, so instead of shooting for glory in one last push to be king, he does the things he knows will keep him in a job.
Stan K is a tight arse, we all know that. He sanctions pitiful season ticket price increases even though we have millions in the bank. He’s never put a penny into the club. He’s a sporting leech. He should have stuck to real estate, but instead he ventured into the world of sport, hoovering up clubs and putting the progress blockers on them. Arsenal aren’t a love, they’re a gold star portfolio purchase.
With both hindsight and foresight, you could see he was going to a nightmare… we should have opted for Usmanov and Moshiri… one half of which has taken on Everton and dropped ticket prices as a golden hello. The board acting like elitist public school boys (acting?) blocked out Alisher because they could and they wanted to protect their ability to sit at board meetings and impact NOTHING at the club, and took in a man who doesn’t care for our success or for the game.
He is anti-sport, and it’s really sad. Worst thing is I know the people of St Louis feel this same.
Anyway, back to Wenger, what you have to realise about this man is that outside football, he doesn’t have a life. Pretty sad situation. His obsession for football killed any outside interest. It even killed his relationship. He’s a man who just has the game. Football is him. Kind of beautiful and worrying at the same time. He’s a clever guy, who also knows that his situation at Arsenal is fu*cking cushy. Like any subordinate versed in the art of bossman survivorship, he understands what pleasures his paymaster… and he plays to that pleasure to embarrassing extremes even though those values mean he avoids winning and worse, kill his reputation in the process.
Stan thinks about football as a business. So to him, winning is about cash money. He doesn’t see trophies, he sees pound notes. 1st and 4th are basically the same amount of pound notes. Investing in the team to lift them to 1st represents a massive investment of maybe £100m. Why would he do that when 4th gives you the same cash? Stan doesn’t seem to get the bigger picture that more prizes mean better commercials… or maybe he does get it, but can’t be bothered with the effort.
Either way, Wenger knows that as long as he’s not losing money… he can keep his job. Because Stan is a balance sheet man. He’s not a trophy man. He sees $$$ bills when he sleeps. So spending is a risk. Wenger knows that if he drops mega money, his job is in the dangerzone. Not spending means he has a lifeline if it goes wrong.
‘I’ve always made you money, you owe me another season’
Wenger hedges his bets by competing at the bear minimum.
So we’re in a horrible situation. Our owner has no ambition to make us the greatest. He’s happy with the top 10. We have a manager who is preserving his career because he knows if he spends big, he’ll probably still fall short. So it leaves us in this horrible middle earth zone as a club. We aren’t competitive and there’s absolutely no desire to work out why that is and turn it around.
The Quality of Thinking
Saddest thing is, it’s not even a money issue here. It’s a quality of thinking issue.
His squad is a shambles. Wenger doesn’t buy players thinking about the bigger picture. He doesn’t look at his players as a collective group of talent that can work like a well oiled machine. He looks at his players on a micro level. Just bodies with skills in a vacuum. He doesn’t see the bigger picture. He has massive inefficiency all over the place and he’s not sharp enough to rectify the mess.
Look at some of the basic mistakes he’s made this season.
Our midfield to start with. Arteta, Flamini and Rosicky are all dead as players. That’s £250k p/w in wages (Matty earns £80k pw apparently). Massive inefficiency. How many games are you expecting from those guys? What is their role to the team? Why weren’t they moved on or bought out of their deals? A total waste.
Then look at some of the other issues we have in midfield. Santi is on the back 9 of his career and was never going to last the season, because he’s been brutalized for 2 years now and he’s 31. Chamberlain was no where near ready to flourish, he should have been loaned out. The guy has no trust from the manager and he plays like that. Aaron Ramsey, a good player, but he’s extremely selfish and we don’t get the most out of him. There’s no use saying he’d be great as a number 10 because, 1) he wouldn’t be 2) Ozil plays there. Jack Wilshere, I mean, really, a great player bubbling, but he’s broken. No good. Why do we persist? Coquelin, a good player, but we all know about his limitations… why the hell did we not sign a back up in the summer after we accidentally worked out that a DM who is mobile might be a good idea? Schneiderlin, Illarramendi or Vidal would have been very good signings last summer.
So we know that our midfield is extremely unfit and not balanced at all. Then we sign Elneny and we don’t use him, despite having nightmares in the middle. He looked very good against Spurs, in fact, in all the games he’s played, but he’s not featured and we’re suffering massively. He’s a ball player, he has great vision and he’s in good health. What was the point in signing him if it wasn’t to help with our shockingly inept and broken midfield?
Then look at how we’ve played the back 4! Per Mertesacker is not going to be able to play all the games, nor is Kos. So we have a very capable centre back in Gabriel, and we give him next to no games. Then we wonder why he’s shite when he drops into the side? Mental. Also, what were we thinking with Chambers? A very good kid, don’t get me wrong. But any manager worth their salt would have had him out on loan learning his trade, so that next season, he could step in for Per. We have Debuchy at right back, a very good player, had a few bad games, career over. So now we have the choice of him or a kid. No planning. Zero idea of how to motivate players and zero understanding of how to manage a squad.
Look at Spurs and Alderweireld. We knew this kid was great at Southampton. He can play DM, he can play right back and centre back. He cost £10m. He was Prem ready, why the hell weren’t we looking at a 26 year old like this? We could have sent Chambers back to Southampton? Poor fucking planning, that’s what… Wenger never thinks about the bigger picture. He never thinks about having a squad that can operate under strain. He never looks at even the basics, like the history of fitness.
As for our forward line. Theo Walcott has consistently given us nothing. He was never, ever, ever going to be a centre forward. Yet he’s on a new deal. He offers nothing creatively and now nothing infront of goal. If Wenger wanted a playmaker outwide, why not steam into Dybala, Shaqiri or Draxler? Don’t bitch at me about names, just play along here that signing no one was stupid.
Our shabby striking issue is 3 seasons old. It’s not acceptable to say, ‘well, there aren’t many available’, because there’s this thing called the globe and it’s a big f*cking place. If all your found in 3 seasons is nothing, you have to wonder what’s going on with your backroom team and make massive changes. Suarez moved, Pierre Erick, Lukaku, Higuain, Morata, Griezmann…
Wenger has made a mess of his squad because he thinks at a micro level and he thinks about starting 11s. He can’t manage a group of players like elite coaches do these days. He also isn’t ruthless. This summer, if Liverpool want Chamberlain, send him away for £22m. Let’s not waste another season on him, because the guys brain is fried, he thinks the only way to make it at Arsenal is doing something incredible with every touch… he looks broken. Let’s clear out the deadwood and spend the money we need to get us into a place where we’re competing.
A Problem of Feedback
There’s an article on HBR at the moment that talks about how modern leaders don’t conform to Steve Jobs-esque stereotypes. They seek opinion that challenges their own…
‘When Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson studied what separates the masters from the mediocre in a wide range of cognitively complex skills (from chess to violin), he discovered that the quality of practice determined performance. Masters were obsessive about identifying and improving on their weaknesses; that means they were able to overcome the natural human bias toward illusory superiority (i.e., the tendency to overestimate our strengths and overlook our faults) by staying open to critical feedback from others. As Cornell psychologist David Dunning says, “The road to self-insight runs through other people.”
Does that sound like Wenger? Is he challenging the way he thinks? Has he built a team around him that can question him? Does he foster a culture of creativity and problem solving? I doubt it. Because he has talented people around him who would NEVER agree that our squad was 0 outfield players away from dominance. Who said, ‘Arsene, you’re being a doughnut, here’s what you need to do and here’s why it works strategically for the short term… oh and here’s a plan for how we build out a team that can compete over the next few years’…
No one is challenging misconceptions here. There are no checks in place to stop the same things happening every season. There’s no accountability for Wenger, so there’s no accountability for the players. Why? Because this season is fine for Arsene. He’s still in a job, no matter what.
The massive test of how barmy Wenger is will come for the Barcelona game. Wenger and everyone at the club accept we’re not competitive in Europe despite having the clout to change that. Which is embarrassing as it is. However, the manager is still delusional, will he go out there and try and win the game… turning Barca over 3-0 at their place… maybe shooting for a bit of glorious failure? Or will he be pragmatic, accept that Everton 3 days later is far more important and send a team to Spain that’ll allow us to be fresh for the league?
You know how that’ll go, don’t you. You just know because Wenger doesn’t posess the quality of thinking he once did. It happens, but no one is there to challenge him.
This Season is just the start
Also, you need to know that this isn’t going to get any better. The mega TV money drops this summer. You’re giving bonus money to good managers who have been working on small club business models that prioritize efficiency. Arsenal no longer have an advantage of bigger money. We no longer have a better scouting network. We certainly don’t have an elite manager. Our training methods are no better than anyone else’s. This season is not a fluke, this season is football moving forward and it’s been brewing for a number of years (and we’ve been writing about it).
The happenings of this season is why all the ‘elite’ CEOs are trying to preserve themselves in a Euro breakaway league. They know they can’t compete now. United out of the CL again. Liverpool, out. Chelsea, out. Because small clubs are now smarter and they’re a genuine threat to old guard, at least in England.
A smarter way for us to protect our elite status would be to bring in an elite manager. Sadly, Ivan will know this, but he’s impotent on the issue and on £2m per year + bonuses, he’s not really financially inclined to kick up a massive stink.
It’s such a soul destroying feeling… terrible owner, impotent CEO and a manager who can’t stop because he doesn’t have a life.
The groundhog feeling just goes on and on.
So in short, a draw against Spurs was great, but the bigger picture isn’t a rosy one…